Language studies

August 11, 2011 by 7 Comments


You may study a language as part of a course or for work.  You can also set yourself up on a course and study alone, but give yourself a certain timeframe or goals.

Many experienced language learners shy away from formal courses for a variety of reasons…

* it’s too slow

* it’s too restrictive

* it’s too expensive

* there’s not enough time

Personally I have done some great courses in languages over the years, so I will definitely not downplay the important aspects of language learning in formal group environment.  However, when you look at courses, think of how the course meets your needs and suits you as a language learner.  They are certainly not for everyone and you might be better thinking about other options.

I cannot describe each and every type of course in this blog.  If I did, it would be a fairly boring read and not very useful.  I will therefore discuss what I am doing at the moment with Polish.

I have published a video in Spanish about my current language learning activities.  In the video I simply say that I am studying Polish in Poland and that I did a week of study before I arrived in-country, so that I would not be dependent on English (or any other language).  A week is usually not a lot of time to do the preparation for an in-country stay.  I would have liked to take longer before arriving in Poland myself.  However as the language is similar to Czech, which I have already studied, I felt a week was a good compromise and adequate to get the ball rolling.

So, what did I do and how did I do it? 

First of all I found a flat with native Polish speakers and contacted them to rent a room for a month.  This would be the guinea pig group to hear me murder their language first hand for at least a few weeks.

Set boundaries for expectations on both sides.  I communicated with the people in the flat before I arrived in English, as it was easier and quicker for me (and them) to do that.  I mentioned that I would like to learn Polish during my stay so they were aware of my goals.  I also told them that I could already understand the language because of Czech.

Then I used, Polish in Three Months (which was on my shelf from years ago) and a flashcard programme on my iPad for vocabulary learning (AccelaStudy Polish).

When I arrived in Poland I could string together enough words and sentences to make basic conversation (A1/2 level).  This was only possible because of my Czech and my Polish was littered with mistakes, but understandable to Poles.

I explained to my new flatmates in Polish that I would really like to speak Polish with them as much as possible.  They expressed a desire to practice English too (which is a common experience for native English speakers abroad).  I said that I would be happy for them to practice a little English with me, but that the main goal was for me to use Polish.  They accepted this well and were very encouraging.  They also corrected me a lot, which was fantastic.

So now the scene is set.  On the first day in Poland, I first went out to a bookstore and bought a book called “Polish in 4 week” – an intensive course meant to take you to B1 level in just 4 weeks.  I am highly sceptical of how possible this is with no previous knowledge of a Slavic language, but I think it is no far off the mark if you can already speak one, two or more fluently.   I also bought a book for students wishing to reach a C1 level in the language.  This is to spur me on to complete the first course.

Every day I do a few hours of Polish studies around my normal job.  I use my iPad to go through a set of words on a particular subject (my aim is to go through 200 new words a day), I also read through Polish in 3 Months and the new course, which comes with a CD ROM too.

The main way I improve is to solidify my learning by going out and speaking to Polish people in the city.  I ask after words, grammar points and to be corrected.  People are very accommodating and are happy to talk to me.  Using my other techniques of reading signs, trying to name/say things in my head and really activate the language in my brain help to bring on the level of my spoken Polish.

I set myself a month to do this as the timescale gives me an end goal.  Whilst I will definitely not beat myself up if I am not perfect at the language after my time in Poland, my hope is to be better than I was at Polish before I arrived.

I will make a video in Polish at the end of my time here to show you what I have been learning.  This is purely to record my level in the language after a month in-country.  Don’t expect miracles.  Like I always say, language learning is a marathon and not a 100m sprint! 🙂

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This post was written by Richard


  • Max says:

    Cześć Richard,

    jestem Polakiem mieszkającym w Warszawie i podobnie jak Ty interesuję się językami. Oglądałem Twoje filmy na YT, są bardzo pomocne.

    Bardzo jest mi miło słyszeć, że zainteresowałeś się językiem polskim. Znam Twoje nadzwyczajne dokonania w zakresie uczenia się języków, więc jestem bardzo ciekaw nagrania, w którym będziesz mówił po polsku. Wiele osób z zagranicy mówi, że polszczyzna to bardzo trudny język, ale skoro znasz już czeski, to będzie Ci łatwiej.

    Życzę powodzenia i wytrwałości

  • MarekDominik says:

    Czekamy na pierwsze wideo po polsku Richard.
    Z pewnością nie będzie to porażka.:)

  • google says:

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  • Jeff says:


    Hello! I’ve been reading your blog for awhile and was going through some old blog posts where I found this one. I have a few questions that perhaps you can help me with.

    I am learning German at the moment, and I currently speak English (native) and fluent Spanish (C1/C2 – never tested but should easily fall there). Anyway, in my current studies I have noticed that I’m getting to a decent level (maybe high A2/low B1) in written German. I can write about a variety of topics in an email and read a 5-8 year old childrens book with some dictionary help but not much. I’m doing a lot of writing, reading, translating (the “Luca method”) as well as listening to some videos with Yabla in German that have subtitles and a built in dictionary/flashcard set. I also use Anki flashcards and have about 1,000 that I am keeping up with as well as adding new words to them whenever I find an important one I feel I should. It’s tough, because I come across so many new words every day that I would have like 300 words per day to review if I added them all. Plus, a lot of them are new but fairly common so I will learn then through repeated repetition in the books/etc. I use the basic Anki timeframes of the imcremental review, hopefully you know what I mean.

    My first question is: How do you go about reviewing 200 words/day? Do you learn them all? Do you revisit them at some point or do you just review them, get an idea for most of them, and move on? It would be pretty difficult to learn 200 words a day to the point where you see the English word and know the German word. Then, after that, I would need several repeated exposures to the words before retaining them. Are you talking about something like an excel spreadsheet list and you just “review it” for an hour or something, absorbing what you can? I have approached vocab but just starting to read/listen, use a dictionary or infer meanings, and get vocabulary that way. I figure it’s more practical than, say, learning all of the items in the kitchen. Obviously the big ones are necessary, but I don’t know that after 2.5 years of living in Spanish I know how to say “spatula?” Pala? No clue. Anyway, apparently that’s not a word I want to invest brainpower in at this time. If you could expand a bit on that for me, I would appreciate it.

    My other big question is this: I took a trip to Germany a few weeks ago for a week and stayed with my native German friend and his wife who speaks really, really good German as she has lived there for 10+ years but is a native Russian speaker. We spoke mostly English, as my wife (native Spanish speaker) knows absolutely no German whatsoever. But I took a lot of time to ask about signs, manners of saying things, and interacted with all shopkeepers ordering stuff/etc in German. However, this lead to some pretty standard and non-exciting conversations. I did, however, realize that my level of speaking is close to 0 – which I’m sure is the case with most people who study a language… the speaking is probably the hardest thing to “get up” because it’s hard to advance by yourself. I have started to make a video weekly (for 1 whole week now!) and explain what I’m doing in my studies, what my plans are, etc to force myself to speak as if I were speaking with someone. Does this type of thing work? I know in children, they have shown that they NEED interaction to really improve in language-related things. Simply watching TV hardly has any affect on pronunciation, learning the new sounds, etc. You can’t just sit your kid in front of German cartoons for 3 years while it’s young and then it suddenly speaks German – from what I understand. Do you feel that this is also true of second/third language learners as adults? Is it crucial to get that interaction. Everyone talks about Skyping with people, which I would do, and have done, but it always seems to be someone fairly unqualified to actually teach a language and it’s odd because it’s like trying to have a conversation with a total stranger… what do you talk about without following some book or some plan. Another idea I have had, which is based on the fact that it’s hard for me to still do in Spanish, is summarize things I have read or my day/etc. For some reason, that appears to still be the hardest thing for me to do in Spanish. Not precisely my personal experiences or something that happened, but like to watch 20 minutes of a movie and then explain what has happened to someone in Spanish. i find myself struggling for words a lot more, as I’m pretty sure it is because I’m trying to do more translating being that I watched the source in English. I don’t know. Anyway, would that be a good way to go? I have thought about doing a video every night explaining what I did that day, going through the day, etc. This would be VERY challenging mentally however I think it would help a lot. After the video, if there was a word I didn’t know, I could look it up/etc. However, my quesiton is this: Would this be as beneficial as Skyping with someone or again, is that interaction very important?


    • Jeff,

      I have to say that learning 200 words a day is an awful lot to aim for. I don’t think I could do that personally. I know when I was in Germany, learning German (my most intensive language study to date), I would learn about 125 words a day. However, German and English have a fair amount of shared vocab, which is a big help and German vocabulary is quite logical as you get further into it, building up the blocks. My main piece of advice would be not to beat yourself up about not memorising everything right away. It takes a lot of repetition to get words into your head and then to make them part of your active vocabulary. It is totally normal to forget a lot and need to be reminded all the time.

      I find listening to radio/TV and reading papers a good way to support my language learning. In the beginning stages, I try to spot constructions and words that I have learnt/heard. I would then pick out any I hear often and look them up. They key is to not worry about picking up on every single thing in the beginning. You can then try to use the language with speakers of it and set yourself a goal of using something new you’ve learnt each time. That works well for me and I find I remember the word more easily next time, if I do that.

      It can be a challenge to speak from day one, but I do feel there is currency in doing it. You need to make a big effort to do it and it can be almost painful to do. Been there, done that and got the t-shirt! 😀 Still, it is a great way to stretch yourself. You can do this in written chat in the beginning, or if you feel really lacking in confidence in the very beginning. SharedTalk, busuu and LiveMocha allow this type of interaction.

      All the best,


  • Renan says:

    Hej Richard! Było dla mnie bardzo ciekawe, że zrobiłeś ten video po hiszpańsku, bo hiszpański jest moim językiem ojczyznym. Polski dla mnie był pierwszym językiem słowiańskim, który się uczyłem (jeszcze chciałbym się uczyć rosyjskiego, ale najpierw interesuje mnie islandski). Ja nigdy nie uczyłem się takiego języka mającego przypadki, jak polski i rosyjski. Hiszpański ma, ale bardzo mało (tylko zaimki osobowe…). To było najtrudniejszy dla mnie. Ja bardzo lubię się uczyć języków obcych, bardzo mnie interesuje to, i też myślę, że to jest bardzo użyteczny, ponieważ ja chciałbym zostać dyrygentem i z tym zawodem bardzo się podróżuje. Twoja strona internetowa jest bardzo ciekawa i ja myślę, że dla mnie będzie bardzo użyteczna na przyszłości. Jutro mam egzamin końcowy mojego kursu języka polskiego tutaj w Łodzi, w Polsce. Przyjechałem tutaj, żeby studiować muzykę, ale nie się udało po prostu, przeprowadzę się do innego kraju na następnym roku akademickim. Mam nadzieję, że wszystko będzie dobrze. Bardzo mi się podobała Polska, ma bardzo ciekawą i piękną kulturę, jest pięknym krajem i ludzie generalnie są bardzo otwarci i symtapyczni. Uczyłem się tego języka prawie przez rok (od kwietnia do września w swoim kraju, a ptem, do dzisiaj, w Polsce).
    Wszystkiego dobrego

  • Bhavesh says:

    Hannah It really ddeneps on your native tongue. For you, since you’re Polish, some languages would be easier for you to learn, than say a native English speaker.Some of the hardest languages to learn though, for a speaker of an Indo-European language (eg, English, Polish, German, Russian, ect) include Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and other Asian languages. Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian are hard for them to learn as well too. Native American languages, especially Siksika, is extremely hard to learn due to it’s HUGELY different sentence structure.And since you’re Polish, I could see Spanish or Portuguese being hard, just since it’s vocabulary is pretty different from Polish.And everyone knows, English is hard for anyone to master Even Americans, lol

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